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Quietly, Denver’s Vic Fangio helped Chargers’ Brandon Staley rise in NFL ranks

Denver coach Vic Fangio watches from sidelines before a home game against Philadelphia.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio hired Brandon Staley when in Chicago, then brought him along to Denver. From there, Staley got jobs with the Rams and the Chargers.
(Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)

They will meet Sunday for the first time as head coaches, Brandon Staley and Vic Fangio matching up when the Chargers visit Denver.

No matter what happens in this key AFC West showdown, it won’t be the pair’s most monumental meeting, Fangio the one who gave Staley his start in the NFL in 2017 when he hired Staley in Chicago.

“During the interview, he didn’t say anything to me,” Staley recalled Wednesday. “It was a really tough deal because I’m not getting any feedback on what’s going down in this interview. I mean, silence. Nothing.

“He’s the type of guy no expression, nothing. I have no idea how I’m doing. I’m trying my best. I feel like I’m killing it. But I got nothing from this guy. We take a break and they ask me and I tell them, ‘I have no idea what’s going on with this guy.’ And they’re like, ‘That’s a good thing.’ ”

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Fangio was the Bears’ defensive coordinator at the time and picked Staley to coach the team’s outside linebackers. Two years later, Fangio was hired by the Broncos and Staley went with him.

Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. was placed on the concussion protocol Monday for the second time this month.

After one season, Staley got the job as the Rams’ defensive coordinator. Not even a year later, he was hired by the Chargers to be their head coach.

“He’s certainly the reason why I was able to become a coordinator with the Rams,” Staley said, “because of the amount of respect that Sean [McVay] and all the offensive coaches in this league have for him. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”

When he was first hired by Fangio, Staley was a relative unknown at the NFL level. He was then the defensive coordinator at Division III John Carroll, Fangio explaining that other members of Chicago’s staff had crossed paths with Staley.

Conversely, Staley was intimately familiar with Fangio, his history and his scheme. As a young college coach, Staley studied Fangio’s defenses and employed many of the same concepts.

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley watches from the sideline.
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley says he owes his NFL career to Vic Fangio, now head coach in Denver. The Broncos are the Chargers’ next opponent.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

He taught his John Carroll players the scheme by using examples of what Fangio was doing as an NFL defensive coordinator. Staley brought along some of those teaching tapes and showed them to Fangio during his interview.
“I felt like it was an authentic way to … say, ‘Hey, this is what I’ve been doing,’ ” Staley said. “The thing about Vic is he appreciates people that do the work, that are really studying.”

Fangio, 63, is in his third season in Denver. Before becoming a head coach, he spent 32 years in the NFL — 19 as a defensive coordinator and 13 as a linebackers coach.

Staley, who is nearly 25 years younger than Fangio, said Fangio’s ability to evolve has allowed him to be successful for so long. Among others, Fangio has worked for Brian Billick, John Fox and both Harbaugh brothers, John and Jim.

NFL roundtable: The Chargers prevailed against a banged-up Pittsburgh team Sunday night, while the Rams had Week 11 off before a key game at Green Bay.

“He just has an incredible work ethic, incredible focus,” Staley said. “I think he’s really global with the game, being able to change with the game. Wherever he’s been, they’ve had incredible defenses.”

The Broncos rank ninth in total defense and third in points allowed in 2021. Their pass defense also is in the top 10 entering this matchup against quarterback Justin Herbert, who is fourth in the NFL averaging 292.7 yards per game.

Using a defense that Fangio described as “very similar” to what Denver runs, the Chargers have been effective against the pass (fifth in the league) while their run defense (still No. 32) has shown marked improvement of late.

Despite both teams playing familiar schemes and all the history between these two coaches, Staley said the events coming Sunday are far from predictable.

“What makes him such a great coach is that he can morph week to week,” Staley said. “Just when you think that Vic has settled into something then he ambushes you with something different.”

No matter what happens, this game will stand as a significant moment for two men who’ve shared plenty over the past five years.

The NFL and Rams owner Stan Kroenke avoided a trial by reaching an $800-million settlement with St. Louis over the team’s relocation.

“You could tell he was a guy that was very knowledgeable on both sides of the football,” Fangio said, “and had a good feel for the game and had a good way with the players to do a good job coaching them.”

For Staley, so much of what he has become in the NFL traces back to that first interview with Fangio.

“He made me work,” Staley said. “He made me earn it. That’s why he’s special.”

Etc.

Staley said starting defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and backup Christian Covington “should be” activated off the COVID-19 reserve list this week. Both missed the Chargers’ game Sunday against Pittsburgh. ... Another starter up front, Linval Joseph, won’t play against Denver after being placed on the COVID list Monday. Since he is unvaccinated, Joseph must quarantine for 10 days. He also is dealing with a shoulder issue. ... Defensive backs Asante Samuel Jr. (concussion), Alohi Gilman (quadriceps), Trey Marshall (ankle/hip) and Mark Webb Jr. (knee) all missed practice Wednesday. Of that group, Samuel is the only starter. He was hurt Sunday and entered the NFL’s concussion protocol for the second time in three weeks.


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